Welcome packets and emails can offer a good starting point for new members, but that may not be enough to keep them around. Here are some tips to help supercharge your member onboarding process.
When someone joins an association, they’re often looking for a path forward as a new member—a little help to find their way, a compass that they can follow.
Associations can offer that help—or they can be a little more passive and do something minimal.
But doing the minimum at the beginning might just cost them the chance of keeping that member around. A 2018 report from Dynamic Benchmarking and Kaiser Insights [PDF] found that associations that implemented an effective onboarding strategy were able to increase their member retention from 62 percent to 68 percent.
Plus, there are other benefits that come from stronger onboarding, including more usable feedback, more detailed information about members, cleaner member databases, and easier identification of potential volunteers.
“Immediate value received upon joining prompted a high level of life-long engagement,” the report stated.
In other words, a little TLC goes a long way. So what does that engagement look like? A few ideas for effective member onboarding upgrades:
1. Personalize early. Often, the first way that members interact with your organization is through some sort of welcome message. Problem is, personalization is desired but not always offered in member communications, according to research from Community Brands—just 18 percent of associations offer it. Welcome emails can be a great area for personalization, as it can help members feel heard. The hard part, as noted by YourMembership, is getting the next set of data to allow for further steps into personalization. A measured approach can help. “If you need new members to complete an online member community profile or set up their communications preferences, send them a specific email communication about that action,” the firm’s Michelle Schweitz explains.
2. Instead of an onboarding packet, consider drip marketing. Member welcome packets can be done well—Personify’s Wild Apricot has plenty of ideas on where to get started. But an email drip campaign can supply that information in a more careful manner over a longer period. Chamber of commerce expert Frank J. Kenny suggests that drip campaigns can replace onboarding packets entirely. “This way they get bite-size tips they can read quickly and start using immediately,” he writes.
3. Lean on your chapters—but not too hard. Chapters can be effective in building a new member base, as they can put a friendly face within proximity of a member and give a local spin to a national or global association. However, Billhighway’s Charlotte Muylaert warns that putting too much pressure on local chapters does not a good chapter strategy make. “You have membership expertise, but they know the day-in/day-out challenges of running a chapter,” she writes. “Instead, collaborate with components on your new member onboarding plan so it’s both practical and sustainable.”
4. Integrate your social strategy. It’s important when building your onboarding strategy to stretch beyond the inbox, as fundamental as it is. Sharing welcome messages for new members on social media is one thing—introducing them to a broader conversation is another entirely. Lia Zegeye, senior director of membership at the American Bus Association, told Associations Now last fall that she hosts onboarding webinars. During that effort, she highlights the organization’s social media platforms and encourages new members to engage—which has been particularly successful at driving members to the association’s Facebook presence.
5. Don’t drop off too quickly with your messaging. As MemberNova noted in a 2019 study, 95 percent of organizations send a welcome email, but just 8 percent continued to send messages beyond the second week—and 2 percent beyond the first month. In an article discussing the survey, author Divya Tandan notes that cutting off the messaging too soon could strand new members during an important time. “The first 90 days are the most crucial for a new member, because it’s during this month and a half that they are evaluating you, assessing the value membership to the association offers them and trying to familiarize themselves with all the resources made available to them,” she writes.
6. Offer special notice at events. It’s not just about driving messaging to the newbies, but giving special notice. As MemberSuite explains, it can help to direct some of that new member onboarding energy to first-time attendees as well—perhaps by creating dedicated first-time event pages, tip sheets, and signifiers that show others that this is an attendee’s first time at an event. “These first-time attendees aren’t likely to come back next time unless you make them feel welcome and help them get the most out of their event experience,” the firm’s Val Brotherton writes.